A doctor’s appointment may feel scary for many of us, and it’s even scarier when we’re potentially dealing with Skin Cancer. At The Skin Cancer Doctor, we want to contribute to your understanding of “what the doctor says” since we can all be afraid or even forget to ask if we are anxious while talking to the physician.
We can vouch for doctors, they aren’t trying to confuse you. In fact, doctors talk in “doctor’s lingo” just because they were taught that specific vocabulary. To them, they’re just saying what things are really called or talking about how things really work.
So here we are, ready to make everything easier for you.
Let’s go over some common terms when dealing with cancer and what they mean in ‘plain old’ English. Leave a comment if you feel there’s something we did not cover and you want to read. If you have a question or new terms you want us to explore let us know!
First of all, let’s go over the basics.
What is Cancer? Cancer is the uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells anywhere in the body. These abnormal cells are called cancer cells, malignant cells, or tumour cells. These can ‘invade’ normal body tissues.
These abnormal cells can be benign or malignant. When the doctor tells us that a lump, or a mole or whatever lesion we find is benign it means that everything’s ok, benign means that it’s not cancerous. The growth will not spread to deeper tissues or other parts of the body.
If these cells are malignant, we’re dealing with Cancer. It has the capacity to metastasize: this means it can spread along the body.
If you hear the doctor talk about a Carcinoma, it means Cancer that begins in the skin or in tissues that line or cover internal organs “skin, lung, colon, pancreatic, ovarian cancers,” epithelial, squamous and basal cell carcinomas, melanomas, papillomas, and adenomas. The doctor could also refer to Neoplasm, a new abnormal growth or tumour that starts from an altered cell
Types of Cancer
The types of cancer and the abnormal cells that compose the cancer tissue are further identified by the name of the tissue it came from (for example, breast cancer, skin cancer, stomach cancer). The area around the abnormal tissue change is referred to as Lesion. Lesions can vary in severity from harmless to serious.
Your skin is your body’s largest organ and when referring to a lesion in skin cancer terms, the lesion would be an area of abnormal appearance on your skin or an abnormal growth like a mole. If you hear the doctor refer to a “Nevus” that’s the medical term for a mole. The lesions that appear in your skin are referred to as Cutaneous.
Melanomas particularly is a type of malignant lesions of the skin in which the cells that give skin its colour become cancerous, Overexposure to sunlight can cause skin changes which can lead to melanoma. In melanomas there can be a more rapid increase in size. Symptoms include a darker or variable discolorations, itching, and possibly ulceration and bleeding.
If the doctor doesn’t know whether something is benign or malignant, they have to take a sample of the tissue and send it to a laboratory to have a biopsy performed.
How to find out
A biopsy is the removal of a small section of the affected tissue. The sample will be analysed in a laboratory in order to establish a precise diagnosis.
These are both what doctors call “incisional biopsies” which will only remove part of the lesion. Your doctor may also perform an “excisional biopsy” where the entire lesion is removed by cutting through the entire skin with a scalpel and closing back up with sutures.
There are also Punch Biopsies in which lesions are removed from the skin. It’s done by using a cookie cutter type device. It’s purpose is to remove small lesions or to sample a portion of a larger lesion.
Furthermore, when the doctor refers to a Shave Biopsy he’s talking about a technique in which a portion of the lesion is cut off the surface of the skin using a blade.
The doctor can talk about Curettage and electrodesiccation: a treatment where the doctor removes the cancer by scraping it with a long, thin instrument with a sharp looped edge on one end (called a curette). The area is then treated with an electric needle (electrode) to destroy any remaining cancer cells.
The specialist physician, who has the expertise in diagnosing and classifying diseases by putting the cells under the microscope is called “Pathologist”.
What to do
There are many ways to deal with Carcinomas. One of those solutions is to excise the tissue, which means to remove it surgically. The procedure could range from a simple excision requiring stitches to a larger excision which may require some after-care.
This is when the doctor can talk about margins. Margins are the edge or border of a tissue. Doctors like to get “clean margins” around a cancerous tissue sample that is removed, with a layer of healthy, noncancerous cells around the cancer, in an effort to remove all the cancer.
Another way to deal with a Carcinoma is Cryotherapy which uses liquid nitrogen to freeze the lesion and aim to destroy the cancer cells. Your doctor may need to perform this technique more than once. It is a non-invasive procedure which requires little time and does not involve cutting anything out.
Both of these treatments are aimed at being curative or helping to cure the abnormal growth of malignant cells
That’s just the beginning. There’s a lot of ground to cover when it comes to medical vocabulary. One important thing to remember is when you are the doctor’s office, you can ask and you should ask everything you have doubts about. You can always contact us, we’re happy to help. It’s very important that you don’t wait in any circumstances. If you have any doubts book a skin cancer check today.
And remember: early detection saves lives!